By Marc Gilson, Director of Client Services, Centerpointe Research Institute
Over the past two editions we’ve discussed happiness, success, and the one thing that we need to have in our lives if we don’t want to have to choose between the two: clear values.
We also saw how my client Chris managed to identify and resolve a number of conflicts around his values which, in turn, allowed him to make some rather simple changes that finally gave him a sense of genuine happiness.
I’d like to finish this series by sharing some highly useful insights from Centerpointe Founder Bill Harris. It was Bill, after all, who really helped me–and thousands of others–see the importance of looking at values.
Getting clear about what you most value, deeply and personally, is an eye-opening and tremendously powerful personal growth process.
As a refresher, let me remind you what a value is. The simplest definition for our purposes is: a value is something we think is very important in our lives.
Seems obvious, right? But let’s dig a little deeper by looking at what Bill had to say about values:
“Your values sit at the root of your thoughts, feelings, and actions…all of which, in turn, directly impacts your results in life. So it is really, really important to take a magnifying glass to your deepest values, and uncover those things that drive you at your deepest level.
Then, you can put those values to work for you in productive, powerful, and even magnetic ways to attract the things, people and situations you desire most in life.”
We can begin to see just why it’s so critical to get clear about our values.
Values, says Bill, are the very basis of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions. Behind almost everything we think and do, lies one or more values that are influencing and directing – often in very subtle ways – our experience of life.
This “values structure,” as Bill called it, is like the pair of eyeglasses through which we see ourselves and the world around us. For nearly every action we take in life, there are one or more values behind it. When you want to know what a person does, simply watch their actions. But if you want to know why they do something, look at their values.
To state what’s probably obvious by now: values are a big deal. But there’s more to this idea than initially meets the eye.
Bill asks us to “go beyond” the basic kinds of values like “being a good person,” or “having enough money.” It’s good to know about these kinds of values but we need to examine them a little more closely before they become useful.
For one thing, according to Bill, we need to know whether these values are on our list because we are moving toward them or because we’re unknowingly moving away from them.
“Sometimes we think we are chasing after something we want in life when what we’re really doing is running away from what we don’t want.”
Let’s look at a quick example.
Many people place a high value on having enough money to live comfortably. Makes sense. After all, there are bills to pay, groceries to buy, and dozens of other needs and wants that require financial resources.
But how we think about the value of money can have a profound impact on how well we’re able to manifest wealth and financial resources in our lives.
If, for example, we value money because we are afraid of not having enough, of being broke, or having to struggle or scrape by, we might find it hard to create the kind of financial situation we want because our internal drive is busy trying to “avoid” being broke, rather than trying to find opportunities to make more money or save up.
We might think we’re focused on building financial security when we’re really just acting from a fear of scarcity.
This kind of fear-based motivation usually ends in self-sabotage.
If you’ve ever wondered why, even when you use all the powers of your focus, you still struggle to achieve something you know is within reach, chances are high that your value around that achievement has you moving away from it rather than toward it.
People who clarify their values often find that the strategies they’ve been using are all focused on avoidance rather than attraction. By clarifying your values and shifting your focus (including your internal self talk), you can begin to attract more of the things in life you want and spend less time in fight or flight mode against things you don’t.
We talked about a form of values conflict in Part Two in which “Chris” had adopted his father’s set of values early-on in life and never spent much time examining his own values structure. For Chris, this created a conflict that resulted in him being quite unhappy in life in spite of his many successes and blessings. It took some effort for Chris to reestablish a new set of values that were truly his own, but as you saw in Part Two, it was worth it.
Bill also spoke about watching for another form of “values conflict,” which is when two important things we want in life seem to be at cross-purposes.
For example, we might value both security and adventure. Or perhaps freedom and family are both high values. What about career and fun?
On the surface, it might prove difficult to enjoy these things in life because in many ways they’re at odds. If we really want adventure, we might have to take some risks. That means we have to give up some of our sense of security. We might really prize our independence and freedom, and yet family means a lot to us. Perhaps we value fun above all else, but we also want a rewarding career.
So in order to resolve these values conflicts we have to choose one or the other, right? No, not at all.
But deciding, in a very self-honest manner, which of the values belongs above the other in terms of priority will help you make decisions that ultimately yield more happiness and fulfillment.
Bill said, “Unless you can identify and clearly prioritize your values, these kinds of conflicts will compromise your results…”
This can be tricky. Not everyone likes the idea of putting freedom above family. That just doesn’t seem “okay” somehow. It might even seem kind of selfish.
But here’s the thing: If that’s truly what is more important to you, and you can come to terms with it, you may find it much easier to invest more quality time with your family and release internal conflicts or resentments that could be creating a lot of dysfunction and disharmony in your familial relationships.
In other words, honesty about our values frees us up to make healthy and resourceful decisions and choices about each value on our list no matter where it ranks.
When you’re plagued with internal values conflicts, you can experience guilt, frustration, shame, anger, disappointment, and, well, you get the idea. It’s no wonder so much unhappiness in our lives is rooted in a lack of clarity around our values.